Northwest Residents, With Wood To Burn, Among Top Polluters

KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Oregon, Idaho, and Washington residents are among the top polluters in the nation when it comes to fine particle emissions from burning wood to heat homes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists Oregon, Idaho and Washington as seventh, eighth and ninth respectively in per capita emissions.

The three states share chilly climates, a tradition of wood burning, and lots of national forest land with easy access and where U.S. Forest Service managers appreciate the removing of some trees to reduce potential forest fires.

“We have a very large fuel wood cutting program and a large public that takes advantage of it,” said Julie Thomas, spokeswoman for the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho. “For a lot of folks, it helps them reduce the cost of purchasing heat in the wintertime.”

Wood burning is also popular in Oregon, where that state’s Department of Environmental Quality found that a third of residents in the densely populated Portland region burn wood.

Marcia Danab, an agency spokeswoman, said southeast Portland as well as some other areas of the state that experience inversions have problems with wood smoke. Health agencies issue alerts when it’s unhealthy to be outside.

To alleviate the problem the state, she said, in 2009 enacted a law requiring uncertified woodstoves to be removed and destroyed when a home is sold.

“The newer stoves that conform to EPA standards put out far less particulates,” Danab said.

That’s the kind that a Washington state company called Rich’s For The Home sells at its five store locations in that state.

Beth Urban, an assistant manager at the company’s Lynnwood store, said the state has some of the strictest standards for wood stove emissions. To meet those standards, the new stoves use what Urban called secondary reburns that eliminate many of the particles.

She also said the stoves, while more expensive, in the long run save money because they’re more efficient, some models using half the wood to produce the same amount of heat as older stoves.

The stoves come in various materials, with soapstone being the most expensive. Urban said prices range from $3,000 to $4,000 for a soapstone stove, but they are also among the most attractive and effective at distributing heat.

“It cuts your consumption down quite a bit,” she said. “The newer wood stoves, you can load up the fire boxes to last six, eight, sometimes 10 hours. Nobody likes to babysit a wood stove.”

EPA Proposes Standards For Cleaner Burning Wood Stoves

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards that would require cleaner burning wood stoves. | credit: EPA/Flickr
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards that would require cleaner burning wood stoves. | credit: EPA/Flickr

By Amelia Templeton, Earth Fix

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed stricter air emissions standards for wood stoves. It also plans to regulate, for the first time, emissions from pellet stoves, fireplace inserts and other wood burning devices.

The EPA proposal comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Oregon and six other states. They alleged that the EPA’s failure to update manufacturing standards for wood stoves since 1988 violated the Clean Air Act and left rural residents at risk of health and breathing problems.

Craig Kenworthy, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said in the short term the EPA’s proposed rule would in effect catch the rest of the country up to the Northwest, where state emissions standards require new stoves to emit no more than 4.5 grams of particulates per hour.

“The technology and the ability of companies to make cleaner devices has made leaps and bounds. I think Oregon and Washington have proved that the first EPA standard is achievable. We’ve had a market, and had manufacturers meeting that market,” Kenworthy said.

Over a five-year period, the EPA has proposed ramping up its standards, eventually requiring new stoves to emit no more than 1.3 grams of particle pollution per hour. The fine particles of pollution in wood smoke have been linked to asthma, respiratory problems, heart attack, cancer and premature deaths. Several cities in the Northwest including Tacoma, Wash., Oak Ridge Ore. and Klamath Falls, Ore. have struggled to meet national air quality standards due to wood stove and fireplace smoke. In Oregon, homeowners are required to remove old wood stoves before selling their home and Washington bans the sale of older models.

But tightening standards for new stoves is also an important part of tackling wood smoke pollution in growing communities, Kenworthy said.

“As growth occurs in these communities, over time even the cleaner devices could overwhelm the gains we’re making in removing the older devices.”

Wood stove manufacturers located in the Northwest said they welcome the new proposed standards and have invested heavily in research and development of clean-burning technology. One of the largest wood stove builders in the country, Travis Industries, is located in Mukilteo, Wash. and has built a reputation for designing high efficiency clean-burning stoves.

Last year, Travis was selected to compete in a “Wood Stove Decathlon” that highlighted the best stove designs from around the world.

The Cape Cod

Travis’s Cape Cod stove emits less than a half-gram of particulates per hour, making it the cleanest-burning EPA certified wood stove.

Perry Ranes, the national sales manger for Travis, said the stove uses two engineering techniques to achieve its emissions reductions: a system that preheats the stove’s air, creating a hotter fire that combusts the wood more completely, and a catalytic combustor that burns up any leftover soot particles. The real trick, Ranes said, is a design that’s efficient and also looks good.

“The secret to all of this is not only designing something that the average individual can use, but at the same time is something that’s eye-appealing that you’d really like to have in your home,” Ranes said.

The EPA estimates the health and economic benefits of the proposed standards at $1.8 to $2.4 billion annually. 
The agency is taking comments on the proposed rule for 90 days and expects to issue a final rule in 2015.